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McGill student creates #NoFutureNoChildren movement to inspire climate action

The #NoFutureNoChildren movement, a pledge to not have children until the Canadian government takes effective action toward addressing climate change, was started by a McGill student. Since creating the pledge, Emma Lim, U0 Science, has gathered over 4,000 signatures.

While Lim has only been engaged with climate activism for about a year, she has already made a global impact. On Sept. 23, she participated in the first United Nations (UN) Youth Climate Summit, and marched alongside Greta Thunberg on Sept. 27 during Montreal’s global climate march. While her pledge is not the first of its kind, Lim’s movement specifically targets the Canadian government, denouncing its failure to recognize the urgency of the current ecological crisis. 

Sophie Arseneault, U1 Arts and official spokesperson of the movement, spoke with The McGill Tribune about the reasoning behind the pledge. 

“[It is] surfacing from a place of fear, as well as frustration,” Arseneault said. “It’s our generation’s way of saying that, if the government doesn’t act on the promises that they’ve already established, we don’t feel safe establishing our own families [….] So this is the closest that we can get to politicians’ hearts [….It’s a way] to alarm politicians to [realize] that the children of today are at risk, but the children of tomorrow are facing even greater risks.”

The pledge is not intended to replace or compete with other forms of climate activism, such as fossil fuel divestment, veganism, and school strikes. Arseneault clarified that it is an urgent cry for help to the leaders of Canada. 

“[We] aren’t looking at one specific policy, we’re only asking that the promises and the policies that have already been established be answered, realized, [and] put into effect,” Arseneault said. “[Major] companies shutting down pipelines and ending their practices that increase carbon dioxide emissions, that’s what we’re looking for.” 

McGill students striking on Sept. 27 for the Global Climate March expressed their doubts regarding the #NoFutureNoChildren.

“I’m really glad that people are taking a stand but I don’t know if this exact pledge is the best means of doing that,” Julia Elson, U4 Chemical Engineering, said. “I don’t know if just pledging to not have kids is enough for the Canadian government to provide a substantial action plan for climate justice.” 

Others, including Meagan MacKenzie, U3 Arts and Science, are concerned about the potentially discriminatory socio-economic implications and repercussions of the movement. 

“I think it’s a really cool, radical, political action [but] I’m doubtful of the impact,” MacKenzie said. “I do think that there is a potentially slippery slope with regards to shaming people for having children. Traditionally, marginalized folks or people from [developing countries] tend to have a lot of children, yet they aren’t the ones who are really creating much of the global [climate] impact. So I think that it’s great but should be used with a bit of caution.”

Arseneault believes that people’s reluctance to sign the pledge stems from a misinterpretation of its intent, sparking controversy on social media. Outrage about this pledge has caused certain detractors to harass Lin online.

“This isn’t a campaign to reduce population growth,” Arsenault said. “It’s not even a campaign to try to invite youth of our generation to stop all ambitions of growing a family. It’s a pledge that we hope [that we] will be able to step back from [….] It’s a pledge [that aims] to push the government to act on the promises already made, to stop creating more promises.” 

The Tribune spoke with anthropology PhD student and professor Adam Fleischmann, who also took to the streets on Friday, about the #NoFutureNoChildren movement. With a research focus on non-state climate actors, Fleischmann views the pledge as a compelling political strategy. 

I think one of the reasons why this action is so powerful is [because it is] a symbolic force trying to cause [a] social echo,” Fleischmann said. “Saying you’re not going to have [kids] for a specific cause, [….] really hits people in the chest [….] And if we’re going to uphold any sort of shred of our ideal of representative democracy, then we have to think that the leaders will eventually respond if there are enough of us, right?”

Fleischmann does not see this environmental movement as clashing with other efforts ranging from individual-to systemic-level climate action. 

“Often, I think [….] that this person is pledging to not have children is like, this is their action,” Fleischmann said. “I haven’t eaten meat in 10 years and part of it is to make a little bit of a difference on climate change, but more of it is to signal to those around [me] that there’s an emergency.”

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